Boehner, the survivor

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) once again appears to be stuck between a rock and a hard place, battling the White House on the payroll tax holiday while trying to keep his Republican Conference united.

Some predict that at the end of this battle, Boehner will be politically scarred. But a review of his career and this year shows that the Republican leader has a knack for getting out of such difficult predicaments.

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After his ouster from leadership following the 1998 elections, Boehner gradually made his comeback. He became a committee chairman and launched a successful bid for majority leader in 2006. 

When Republicans were crushed in the 2006 midterms and the 2008 elections, Boehner faced challenges to his leadership post. But he easily defeated those who sought to oust him.

Earlier this year, he reached his longtime goal of becoming Speaker. Even then, there were whispers that he wouldn’t last long. 

In the spring, Boehner went toe to toe with Democrats as both parties came very close to shutting down the government. Some in the Republican Conference were not pleased with that deal, but most supported it. 

Skeptics said the debt-ceiling debate would ruin Boehner. Indeed, the summer’s debt negotiations were far more intense than the shutdown showdown. At one point, Boehner couldn’t persuade his colleagues to back his legislation aimed at reducing the deficit. He pulled the bill, sparking embarrassing headlines.

Democrats thought they had the advantage, though the deal Boehner ultimately struck with President Obama favored the GOP and was dubbed a “Satan sandwich” by Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.).

Over the last couple weeks, the White House and congressional Democrats have been hammering the GOP on extending the payroll tax holiday as Republicans bickered among themselves.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) offered his own alternative, which was soundly rejected by a majority of Republicans and every Democrat. 

Learning from his mistakes, Boehner called a meeting of House Republicans to discuss what they wanted to do. It wasn’t a pleasant meeting, as Boehner told his colleagues that inaction was not an option. He went so far as to suggest that the House GOP majority was at stake, according to one member who was there. 

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On Tuesday, the House passed its version of a tax holiday bill over the objections of Democrats. The measure is going nowhere, but it gives Boehner much-needed leverage.

He still faces daunting obstacles. A final, bipartisan tax holiday bill might be added to an omnibus spending measure, and the price tag will certainly scare off conservatives. To avoid taking a political hit, the Speaker must minimize defections.

It is unclear how 2011 will end for the freshman Speaker, but he cannot be accused of making rookie mistakes.



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